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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Queering Kinship: Examining Heteronormativity and What “Counts” as Family

  • Author(s): Thunstrom, Jennifer
  • Advisor(s): Brenner, Suzanne
  • et al.

Queer (i.e., lesbian, gay, bisexual) families are becoming increasingly visible in the United States. Yet, they are still considered part of an “other” group by mainstream society. Early studies of family emphasized biology and genetics as factors determining the creation of a family. Although notions of family have become more fluid, the “othering” of queer families within academia continues. Although some recent studies on queer families have been conducted, there continues to be a shortage and many questions about these families remain. For example, we still do not know why queer families are frequently not considered “real” families, nor the extent that society’s perceptions and acceptance of them is changing. Questions also remain about how queer families understand themselves in relation to the hegemonic heteronormative notion of family. This thesis explore these questions through reviewing relevant literature and describing findings of an ethnographic study of queer families. Findings suggest a shift towards greater acceptance of queer families in recent years leading up to and coinciding with the Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage. Despite shifts towards acceptance, queer families are still viewed in relation to heteronormative notions of family. Participants interviewed relied on these notions to make sense of their families, despite asserting their rejection of heteronormative ideals. Future studies should explore historical changes in how the queer community and queer families define their own notions of family. Understanding these families as their own model, and not merely in relation to a heteronormative model, may provide greater understanding and acceptance.

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